صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

We flatter ourselves that we shall cultivate, with great diligence, the arts of peace; and every man will be welcome among us who can teach us any thing we do not know. For your part you will find all your old friends willing to receive you.

“Reynolds still continues to increase in reputation and in riches. Miss Williams, who very much loves you, goes on in the old way. Miss Cotterel is still with Mrs. Porter. Miss Charlotte is married to Dean Lewis, and has three children. Mr. Levet has married a street-walker. But the gazette of my narration must now arrive to tell you, that Bathurst went physician to the army, and died at the Havannah.

“ I know not whether I have not sent you word that Huggins and Richardson are both dead. When we see our enemies and friends gliding away before us, let us not forget that we are subject to the general law of mortality, and shall soon be where our doom will be fixed for ever.

“I pray God to bless yoả, and am, Sir,

“ Your most affectionate humble servant, “ Write soon.”

“Sam. Johnson.” In 1763 he furnished to “ The Poetical Calendar,” published by Fawkes and Woty, a character of Collins,* which he afterwards ingrafted into his entire life of that admirable poet, in the collection of lives which he wrote for the body of English poetry, formed and published by the booksellers of London. His account of the melancholy depression with which Collins was severely afflicted, and which brought him to his grave, is, I think, one of the most tender and interesting passages in the whole series of his writings. He also favoured Mr. Hoole with the Dedication of his translation of Tasso to the Queen,* which is so happily conceived aud elegantly expressed, that I cannot but point it out to the peculiar notice of my readers. I I“MADAM,

“To approach the high and illustrious has been in all ages the privilege of Poets; and though translators cannot justly claim the same honour, yet they naturally follow their authors as attendants; and I hope that in return for having enabled Tasso to diffuse his fame through the British dominions, I may be introduced by him to the presence of Your MAJESTY.

“ Tasso bas a peculiar claim to Your MAJESTY's favour, as follower and panegyrist of the House of Este, wbich has one common ancestor with the House of HanOVER ; and in reviewing his life it is not easy to forbear a wish that he had lived in a happier time, when he might among the descendants of that illustrious family have found a more liberal and potent patronage.

“ I cannot but observe, Madam, how unequally reward is proportioned to merit, when I reflect that the happiness which was withheld from Tasso is reserved for me, and that the poem which once hardly procured to its author the countenance of the Princess of Ferrara, has attracted to its translator the favourable notice of a British Queen.

“ Had this been the fate of Tasso, he would have been able to have celebrated the condescension of Your MAJESTY in nobler language, but could not have felt it with more ardent gratitude than, “MADAM,

“ Your MAJESTY's “ Most faithful and devoted servant."

This is to me a memorable year; for in it I had the happiness to obtain the acquaintance of that extraordinary man whose memoirs I am now writing; an acquaintance which I shall ever esteem as one of the most fortunate circumstances in my life. Though then but two-andtwenty, I had for several yeurs read his works with delight and instruction, and had the highest reverence for their author, which had grown up in my fancy into a state of mysterious veneration, by figuring to myself a kind of solemn elevated abstraction, in which I supposed him to live in the immense metropolis of London. Mr. Gentleman, a native of Ireland, who passed some years in Scotland as a player, and as an instructor in the English language, a man whose talents and worth were depressed by misfortunes, had given me a representation of the figure and manner of DICTIONARY Johnson ! as he was then generally called : and during my first visit to London, which was for three months in 1760, Mr. Derrick the poet, who was Gentleman's friend and countryman, flattered me with hopes that he wonld introduce me to Johnson, an honour of which I was very ambitious. But he never found an opportunity ; which made me doubt that he had promised to do what was not in his power; till Johnson some years afterwards told me, “ Derrick, Sir, might very well have introduced you. I had a kindness for Derrick, and am sorry he is dead.”

In the summer of 1761 Mr. Thomas Sheridan was at Edinburgh, and delivered lectures upon the English Language and Public Speaking to large and respectable audiences. I was often in his company, and heard him frequently expatiate upon Johnson's extraordinary knowledge, talents, and virtues, repeat his pointed sayivgs, describe his particularities, aod boast of his being his guest sometimes till two or three in the morning. . At his house I hoped to have many opportunities of seeing the sage, as Mr. Sheridan obligingly assured me I should not be disappointed.

When I returned to London in the end of 1762, to my surprise and regret I found an irreconcileable difference had taken place between Johnson and Sheridan. A pension of two hundred pounds a year had been given to Sheridan. Johnson, who, as has been already mentioned, thought slightingly of Sheridan's art, upon hearing that he was also pensioned, exclaimed, “ What! have they given him a pension? Then it is time for me to give up mine.” Whether this proceeded from a momentary indignation, as if it were an affront to his exalted merit that a player should be rewarded in the same manner with him, or was the sudden effect of a fit of peevishness, it was unluckily said, and, indeed, cannot be justified. Mr. Sheridan's pension was granted to him not as a player, but as a sufferer in the cause of government, when he was manager of the Theatre Royal in Ireland, when parties ran high in 1753. And it must also be allowed that he was a man of literature, and had considerably improved the arts of reading and speaking with distinctness and propriety.

Besides, Johnson should have recollected that Mr. Sheridan taught pronunciation to Mr. Alexander Wedderburne, whose sister was married

to Sir Harry Erskine, an intimate friend of Lord Bute, who was the favourite of the King. Mr.Macklin, indeed, shared with Mr. Sheridan the honour of instructing Mr. Wedderburve; and though it was too late in life for a Caledonian to acquire the genuine English cadence, yet so successful were Mr. Wedderburne's instructors, and his own unabating endeavours, that he got rid of the coarse part of his Scotch accent, retaining only as much of the “ native wood-note wild," as to mark his country. By degrees he thus formed a mode of speaking, to which Englishmen do not deny the praise of elegance. Hence his distinguished oratory, which he exerted in his own country as an advocate in the Court of Session, and a ruling elder of the Kirk, has had its fame and ample reward, in much higher spheres. When I look back on this noble person at Edinburgh, in situations so unworthy of his brilliant powers, and behold LORD LOUGHBOROUGH at London, the change seems almost like one of the metamorphoses in Ovid.

Johnson complained that a man who disliked him repeated his scarcasm to Mr. Sheridan, without telling him what followed, which was, that after a pause he added, “However, I am glad that Mr. Sheridan has a pension, for he is a very good man.” Sheridan could never forgive this hasty contemptuous expression. It raokled in his mind; and though I informed him of all that Johnson said, and that he would be very glad to meet him amicably, he positively declined repeated offers which I made, and once went off abruptly from a house where he and I were engaged to dine, because he was told that Dr. Johnson was to be there. I have no sympathetic feeling with such persevering resentment. It is painful when there is a breach between those who have lived together socially and cordially ; and I wonder that there is not, in all such cases, a mutual wish that it should be healed. I could perceive that Mr. Sheridan was by no means satisfied with Johason's acknowledging him to be a good man. That could not sooth his injured vanity. I could not but smile, at the same time that I was offeoded, to observe Sheridan in the Life of Swift, which he afterwards published, attempting, in the writings of his resentment, to depreciate Johnson, by characterising him as “ A writer of gigantic fame, in these days of little men ;” that very Johnson whom he once so highly admired and venetrated.

This rupture with Sheridan deprived Johnson of one of his most agreeable resources for amusement in his lonely evenings ; for Sheridan's wellinformed, animated, and bustling mind never suffered conversation to stagnate; and Mrs. Sheridan was a most agreeable companion to an intellectual man. She was seusible, ingenious, unassuming, yet communicative. I recollect, with satisfaction, many pleasing hours which I passed with her under the hospitable roof of her husband, who was to me a very kind friend. Her novel, entitled “ Memoirs of Miss Sydney Biddulph,” contains an excellent moral, while it inculcates a future state of retribution; and what it teaches is impressed upon the mind by a series of as deep distress as can affect humanity, in the amiable and pious heroine who goes to her grave unrelieved, but resigned, and fall of hope of heaven's mercy.” Johnson paid her this high compliment upon it; “I know not, Madam, that you have a right, upon moral principles, to make your readers suffer so much.”

Mr. Thomas Davies the actor, who then kept a bookseller's shop in Russel-Street, Covent-garden, I told me that Johnson was very much his friend, and came frequently to his house, where he more than once invited me to meet him; but by some unlucky accident or other he was preveoted from coming to us.

Mr. Thomas Davies was a mau of good understanding and talents, with the advantage of a liberal education. Though somewhat pompous, he was an entertaining companion ; and his literary performances have no inconsiderable share of merit. He was a friendly and very hospitable man. Both he and his wife, (who has been celebrated for her beauty,) though upon the stage for many years, maintained an uniform decency of character; and Johnson esteemed them, and lived in as easy an intimacy with them as with any family which he used to visit. Mr. Davies recollected several of Johnson's remarkable sayings, and was one of the best of the many initators of his voice and manuer, while relating them. He increased my impatience more and more to see the extraordinary man whose works I highly valued, and whose conversation was reported to be so peculiarly excellent.

At last, ou Monday the 16th of May, when I was sitting in Mr. Davies's back-parlour, after having drunk tea with him and Mrs. Davies, Johnson unexpectedly came into the shop; and Mr. Davies having perceived him through the glass-door in the room in which we were sitting, advance ing towards us,-he announced his awful approach to me somewhat in the manner of an actor in the part of Horatio, when he addresses Hamlet on the appearance of his father's ghost, “ Look, my Lord, it comes." I found that I had a very perfect idea of Johnson's figure, from the portrait of him pajuted by Sir Joshua Reynolds soon after he had published his Dictionary, in the attitude of sitting in his easy chair in deep meditation ; which was the first picture his friend did for him, which Sir Joshua very kindly presented to me. Mr. Davies mentioned my name, and respectfully introdued me to him. I was much agitated ; and recollecting his prejudice against the Scotch, of which I had heard much, I said to Davies, “ Don't tell where I come from."-"From Scotland,” cried Davies, roguishly. “Mr. Johnson, (said I) I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.” I am willing to flatter myself that I meant this as light pleasantry to sooth and conciliate him, and not as an humiliating abasement at the expence of my country. But however that might be, this speech was somewhat unlucky; for with that quickness of wit for which he was so remarkable,

| No. 8.-The very place where I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the illustrious subject of this work, deserves to be particularly marked. I never pass by it without feeling reverence and regret.

he seized the expression “ come from Scotland,” which I used in the sense of being of that country; and as if I had said that I had come away from it, or left it, retorted, “ That, Sir I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.” This stroke stunned me a good deal; and when we had sat down, I felt myself not a little émbarrassed, and apprehensive of what might come next. He then addressed himself to Davies ; “ What do you think of Garrick ? He has refused me an order for the play for Miss Williams, because he knows the house will be full, and that an order would be worth three shillings.” Eager to take any opening to get into conversation with him, I ventured to say, “0, Sir, I cannot think Mr. Garrick would grudge such a trifle to you." “Sir, (said he, with a stern look,) I have kuown David Garrick longer then you have done : and I know no right you have to talk to me on the subject.” Perhaps I deserved this check ; for it was rather presumptuous in me, an entire stranger, to express any doubt of the justice of his animadversion upon his old acquaintance and pupil. I now felt myself much mortified, but I remained upon the field not wholly discomfited ? and was soon rewarded by hearing some of his conversation, of which I preserved the following short minute, without marking the questions and observations by which it was produced.

“People (he remarked) may be taken in once, who imagine that au author is greater in private life than other men. Uncommon parts require uncommon opportunities for their exertion.

“In barbarous society, superiority of parts is of real consequence. Great strength or great wisdom is of much value to an individual. But in more polished times there are people to do every thing for money; and then there are a number of other superiorities, such as those of birth and fortune, and rank, that dissipate men's attention, and leave no extraordinary share of respect for personal and intellectual superiority. This is wisely ordered by Providence, to preserve some equality among mankind.”

“Sir, this book (The Elements of Criticism,' which he had taken up,) is a pretty essay, and deserves to be held in some estimation, though much of it is chimerical.”

Speaking of one who with more than ordinary boldness attacked public measures and the royal family, he said, “ I think he is safe from the law, but he is an abusive scoundrel; and instead of applying to my Lord Chief Justice to punish him, I would send half a dozen footmen and have him well ducked.”

“The notion of liberty amuses the people of England, and helps to keep off the tædium vitæ. When a butcher tells you that his heart bleeds for his country, he has, in fact, no uneasy feeling.”

“Sheridan will not succeed at Bath with his oratory. Ridicule has gone down before him, and, I doubt, Derrick is his enemy. I

| Mr. Sheridan was then reading lectures upon Oratory at Bath, where Derrick was Master of the Ceremonies ; or, as the phrase is, King.

« السابقةمتابعة »